by  Jen Baker and Wendy Francis

Sustainable logging need not be an oxymoron. In a very progressive move, the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) is requiring that all forestry operations carried out on public lands become certified as sustainable by the end of 2007.

Forest certification entails an audit of a forest company’s operations, ideally including labour relations and relations with First Nations and local communities, in addition to ecological sustainability. Four forest certification standards are available to Ontario forest companies: Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), Canadian Standards Association (CSA), Sustainable Forest Management Standard (SFM) and Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI).

Of the various certification options available, Ontario Nature supports FSC certification. “With healthy forests disappearing around the globe, as well as the critical role intact forests play in slowing global warming, it is vitally important that our forests be managed sustainably, and the FSC standard can do a good job of this,” says Wendy Francis, Ontario Nature’s director of conservation and science.

FSC certification is an internationally recognized environmental seal of approval denoting that forestry companies are following high standards of sustainable forest management. Under the FSC criteria, cutting of old-growth forests is not permitted and companies cannot replace diverse forests with monoculture tree farms. FSC-certified companies are regularly audited by independent parties and must identify areas within the forests they manage that can be protected.

Canada now has more forested land under certification (over 18 million hectares) than any other country. In Ontario, Tembec Inc. and Domtar Inc. say that certification serves them well in competitive markets as demand for environmentally friendly wood continues to grow. Both companies have already had portions of their operations certified according to FSC standards and intend to seek further certification.

The SFM standard is less rigorous than that of the FSC one and therefore easier for forestry companies to implement. The SFM standard does not require consultation with First Nations communities; nor does it have a stringent audit process. The American SFI standard is the least environmentally and socially stringent of the four, and the number of Canadian companies certified under this standard is decreasing.

While Ontario Nature agrees that all forestry companies operating on public land in Ontario should be certified by a third party, preferably to the FSC standard, this process alone does not ensure that ecological integrity is maintained across the undeveloped northern boreal region. Before any forest is committed to certified forestry operations, decisions must first be made about where forestry is an appropriate activity and where it is not. Only a conservation- based land-use planning policy will provide the kind of large-scale context within which truly sustainable land uses can occur.